Stupid Design October 23, 2009

This post is by Jesse Galef

Everyone seemed to like Neil deGrasse Tyson.  Good, it shows you have good taste.  For your Friday afternoon viewing pleasure, here’s another great clip of him, this time explaining how absurd it is to claim that the universe was designed for life, let alone human life: (rough transcript by me)

I want to do a fast tirade on stupid design. Look at all the things that just want to kill us…
Most places in the universe will kill life instantly – instantly! People say that the forces of nature are just right for life.  Excuse me?  Look at the volume of the universe where you can’t live. You will die instantly. That’s not what I call the garden of Eden.

This is all stupid design.  If you look for what it intelligent, yeah you can find things that are really beautiful and clever – like the  ball socket of the shoulder – there are a lot of things you can point to.  But then you stop looking at all the things that confound that revelation.  So if I came across a frozen waterfall and it just struck me for all its beauty, I would then turn over the rock and try to find a millipede or some kind of deadly newt, put that in context, and realize of course that the universe is not here for us – for any singular purpose.

If people want to argue for belief in God based on observation of the world instead of personal revelation, it’s difficult to get around this unpleasant truth – observations don’t imply that the world was made for us.  We appear to have formed – poorly, I might add – from other species onto a difficult planet that is constantly trying to kill us in one way or another.  We are a tiny speck in a universe that is vastly, mindbogglingly big.  (I mean, you might it’s a long commute to work, but that’s just peanuts to space.)

The more we understand the universe, the more we realize just how small a part of it we are.  Creation myths in various cultures portray a god or gods creating the Earth specially and giving humans a special place in it.  But we have since discovered that our species is simply one of many in the tree of life, the Earth isn’t even the center of our solar system let alone the universe.

The evidence simply does not support the theory of a designer who is both competent and loves us. But where do we go from that knowledge?

[UPDATE] Greta Christina answers that question well on her blog in a post from December. I like her closing:

Being an atheist doesn’t mean that life isn’t important. It means that we get to create our own sense of importance. The human scale is where we live. It’s what we have. And if we decide that that’s the most important scale for us, there’s nobody out there to tell us otherwise.

Precisely. Even though we’re not important to an external entity, we’re still important to each other. So say we all.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I can never get enough of Tyson, such a fun guy to watch and listen to. And Death by Black Hole is probably one of my favorite science books from the past few years. We need more people like him.

  • Wow. Haven’t heard it put this well before.

    I always say – Intelligent design? Look, we have *five* fingers on each hand — overkill; cartoon characters get by with four, and so could we.

    On the other hand — we could all use an extra hand. COuldn’t we? We say it all the time.

    Where’s the intelligent design in that? Too many fingers – not enough hands — that’s stupid. Obvious God hasn’t spent much time with his users, Jesus to the contrary notwithstanding….

  • You might be interested in today’s piece on Daylight Atheism, on the “fine tuning” argument, which explodes the human-centrism of the argument in a completely different way

    And if you’ll forgive the shameless self-plugging, you might also be interested in a piece I wrote on my own blog, getting at the “fine-tuning” argument in yet another way.

  • I liked his frozen waterfall reference and his “pleasure center” and sewage system comment. 🙂

  • Jesse Galef

    Greta, I was indeed interested in the piece you wrote and thought you did a great job answering the “so now what” question in the next post. I’ve added a link and my own plugging.

  • Richard Wade

    I read a good simile for arguing against the “world was built for life” argument somewhere but cant remember where:

    Marveling at how well made the world is to be hospitable for our life is like marveling at how neatly the Mississippi River slips underneath all those bridges.

    It’s a confusion of cause and effect.

  • llewelly

    She turned me into a deadly newt!

  • Crux Australis

    So say we all.

  • One of the biggest reasons I can’t believe in an omnipotent creator is how terribly designed so many things are. At least a chaotic evolution would explain why human backs aren’t well suited to bipedality and such.

  • HERDdad

    May I suggest a Friday Funny post every week. Some skeptic or atheist comedy every Friday would be great. (or maybe you’re already doing that?)

  • sc0tt

    If you watched to the end, you’ll appreciate this joke.

    A mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, and civil engineer were discussing God. Mechanical guy says “God must be a mechanical engineer because look at all these great joints and linkages and the energy conversion system is divine”. Electrical engineer says “Yeah, but it’s the body’s electrical system that controls it all, and the brain is like a big motor control center; God must be an EE.” Civil engineer says “God is clearly a civil engineer – who else would put a sewer line right through the middle of a playground?”

  • muggle

    Great again! And I’ve long been asking, intelligent design? What intelligent design? Hell, I don’t even see design. It’s pretty damned chaotic.

  • Revyloution

    Did anyone else see Dawkins?

    Its hard to get a full grasp of that short segment, but I felt Dawkins was really enjoying the humor, with a twinge of ‘why cant I be funny like this’

  • awesome use of hitchhiker’s guide reference.

  • Edmond

    A good line of thought. Why did god give us an appendix and wisdom teeth? Why do men have nipples? What is the purpose of Pluto?

  • Ben

    I was at a NASA open house on Saturday (10/24) at JSC in Houston, taking a tour of mission control. Another guest near me asked one of the guides how big the control room is, which we were about to tour, and the guide responded with the same quote from Douglas Adams! I couldn’t stop laughing!